What is Stigma?

What is stigma?

People with mental illness put up with a lot more than their illness. Stigma contributes another major stress they can well do without. Many say that stigma and prejudice is as distressing as the symptoms themselves.

Most often stigma against people with a mental illness involves inaccurate and hurtful representations of them as violent, comical or incompetent – dehumanising and making people an object of fear or ridicule.

When this stigma occurs in the media it can be in the form of reports that refer to inaccurate stereotypes, sensationalise issues through unwarranted references to mental illness, misuse medical terminology, or use demeaning or hostile language.

Stigma in the media is especially harmful because the media plays an important role in shaping and reinforcing community attitudes.

What is the harm of stigma?

Some of the most harmful effects of stigma occur when it alters how people view themselves, also known as self-stigma.

Self-stigma is the acceptance of prejudiced perceptions held by others. This can lead to a reluctance to seek treatment, excessive reliance on others, social withdrawal, poor self-worth and it may also lead to abuse of alcohol and drugs.

What is the difference between stigma and discrimination?

Stigma is considered to be an opinion or judgement held by individuals or society. If these prepositions are acted upon, these actions may be considered to be discriminatory.

Discriminating against someone at work, denying access to education, accommodation, entry to a premises, membership of a club or association, or the provision of services, is unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Act,1992. For more information about the act or to make a complaint about discrimination, visit the website of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Find out more

See A Life without Stigma a major report from SANE Australia detailing the harm done by stigma, best practice in reducing it, and recommendations for action in Australia.